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Brutally cold weather reaches deep into lower U.S., causing dozens of deaths

Temperatures dropping below zero as far south as Texas and Florida
Migrants pick up clothes as mutual aid groups distribute food and clothes under cold weather near the Migrant Assistance Center at St. Brigid Elementary School, on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

Much of the U.S. remained gripped by deadly Arctic weather Sunday — with subfreezing conditions reaching as far south as Texas and Florida. But the numbing cold is expected to ease up in the coming days.

Freezing rain, sleet and high wind gusts later Sunday would make traveling in parts of Kansas and Oklahoma particularly treacherous, the National Weather Service said. Wind chills in Iowa made it feel like minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 degrees Celsius) in some parts.

But the end of subzero temperatures — which blasted into the U.S. on Friday — was in sight for parts of the country. The daily high temperatures in Iowa’s capital of Des Moines, for example, were expected to stay above freezing starting Monday.

“With no additional replenishment of arctic air from Canada, a steady warm-up is in store for the mid-section of the country,” the weather service said.

Still, the cold was felt especially by people unaccustomed to such bitter cold in places like Memphis, Tennessee, where residents were urged to boil water and some had no water at all after freezing temperatures broke water mains across the city. Temperatures weren’t expected to rise until after the weekend.

Winter storms this month claimed at least 67 lives around the U.S., many involving hypothermia or road accidents.

READ ALSO: Extreme cold mostly over in Canada except in northern Alberta

At the Four Way Grill in Memphis, owner Patrice Bates Thompson said the water problems have closed their soul food kitchen for days.

“This is our staple, and this is what basically drives the force of my family financially,” Thompson told Fox-13 Memphis. “We depend on business, and we have been at home.”

So many pipes broke in Memphis that water pressure fell throughout the city. Concerned about possible contamination, Memphis Light, Gas & Water urged its more than 400,000 customers to boil water for drinking or teeth-brushing or use bottled supplies on Saturday while crews worked around the clock to make repairs.

“Our production and treatment of water is working well,” the utility said in an email. “We cannot give restoration estimates until all leaks are identified.”

The utility said more than 100 employees volunteered Saturday to identify breaks, and residents were urged to report leaks in the street, at homes and in unoccupied buildings.

Without water since Thursday morning, Pamela Wells was visited Saturday by a worker who asked whether they had a leak.

“My husband said, ‘How can we have a leak, if we don’t have any water?’” she said.

They had filled a bathtub with water to flush toilets with when they noticed the pressure dropping, Wells said. For everything else they were using a dwindling supply of bottled water until their street became passable on Saturday and friends brought in fresh supplies.

Meanwhile, the Memphis City Council opened seven bottled water distribution stations on Saturday, one in each council district. Two others were operating at fire stations. One had 300 cars lined up when it opened on Saturday, Shelby County Emergency Management Director Brenda Jones said in a telephone interview.

“You have people with absolutely no water, people with low water pressure, and you have the boil water advisory,” she said.

Tennessee alone recorded 26 deaths, including a 25-year-old man found dead on the floor of a mobile home in Lewisburg after a space heater overturned and turned off, said Bob Johnson, chief deputy for the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office.

“There was ice on the walls in there,” Johnson said.

On the West Coast, more freezing rain was forecast in the Columbia River Gorge and the area was expected to remain near or below freezing through at least Sunday night. Trees and power lines already coated with ice could topple if they get more, the National Weather Service warned.

“Stay safe out there over the next several days as our region tries to thaw out,” the weather service said. “Chunks of falling ice will remain a hazard as well.”

The weather service forecast above-average temperatures across most of the country next week. Meanwhile, not everyone hated the white stuff.

“It’s fun right now,” Michigan City resident Andrew Smith told WBBM-TV. “We haven’t had this much snow in a minute, and Christmas wasn’t snowy, so it’s fun to do this. I can play with the kids, make snowballs, make a snowman.”

READ ALSO: Cold and injured hummingbirds piling up at B.C. shelters


Associated Press contributors include Travis Loller in Nashville, Tennessee; Lisa Rathke in Marshfield, Vermont; Corey Williams in Detroit; Ken Miller in Edmond, Oklahoma; and Ron Todt in Philadelphia.

Adrian Sainz, The Associated Press